Health Plan Weekly

Marketplace, MCOs Will Face a Rocky Transition When PHE Ends

When the Biden administration ends the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE), states will disenroll millions of Medicaid beneficiaries — and insurers will have to take Medicaid MCO members off their books. Experts tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT, that carriers can take steps to retain some of those members by helping them enroll in Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace coverage — but say the number of people who make the switch will be far lower than the number of people who joined the Medicaid rolls during the pandemic (see infographic).

Medicaid and individual exchange enrollment have both boomed with the higher federal funding that was included in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) — and both segments’ total enrollment and enrollee profiles will change significantly when that extra funding ends.

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Startups Oscar Health, Bright Health Exit Markets & Tighten Belts

Startup insurers Oscar Health, Inc. and Bright Health Group, Inc. have decided they will no longer sell individual and/or family plans in certain states after this year. Ari Gottlieb, a principal at consulting firm A2 Strategy Group, tells AIS Health that those are signs the companies are looking to stem large losses and shore up their businesses as their stock prices fall and raising additional capital becomes harder.

Gottlieb says he anticipates Cigna Corp, which invested in Oscar earlier this year, could buy the company as soon as the end of the year. The fate of Bright remains unknown, although Gottlieb does not see Oscar, Bright or the two other publicly traded startup insurers (Alignment Healthcare and Clover Health Investments Corp.) becoming profitable anytime soon. Gottleib says Cigna may buy Bright also.

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Humana Doubles Down on Primary Care Clinic Investments

Humana Inc. has become the latest insurer to increase its investment in building de novo primary care clinics, perhaps finding that while building is more effective than buying, opening clinics on a broad scale is a costlier proposition than first thought.

The insurer on May 16 said it had established a second joint venture with Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe (WCAS) to further expand its value-based, senior-focused primary care clinics. (Hg Capital Partners and WCAS share control of MMIT, the parent of AIS Health.) The deal will provide up to $1.2 billion of additional capital for the development of approximately 100 new payer-agnostic clinics operated by Humana subsidiary CenterWell between 2023 and 2025. The expansion follows an earlier agreement that is currently deploying up to $800 million of capital to open 67 clinics by early 2023 and support ongoing operations, Humana added. WCAS will have majority ownership of the joint venture, while Humana will have a minority stake.

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News Briefs: Biden Admin. Likely to Extend PHE

Biden administration officials confirmed that they would extend the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) past July 15, when it is currently set to expire, according to press reports, though HHS Sec. Xavier Becerra has not yet issued an official proclamation to that effect. The administration has promised states that it will give them at least 60 days’ notice before the end of the emergency, in part to assist state officials as they restart Medicaid eligibility redeterminations. The PHE also allows for certain flexibilities in areas including telehealth practice. According to news reports, the PHE is likely to be extended until at least Oct. 13.

Nationally, commercial health plans pay 224% more than Medicare rates for services at hospitals, according to new research from the RAND Corp. The study is the latest in a series on hospital prices; the last installment came in 2018. Relative prices vary widely from state to state, with some states’ plans reimbursing below 175% of Medicare rates and some seeing rates of 310% or higher. The study also found that “a large portion of price variation is explained by hospital market power.”

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Insurers Are Helping Patients, Providers Deal With Medical Debt

Although fewer Americans are dealing with medical-related financial hardships since the coronavirus pandemic began, the percentage is still high and could rise further as Medicaid redeterminations resume, major Affordable Care Act subsidy expansions expire and inflation eats away at people’s incomes and savings. To that end, payers are implementing ways to ease the burden of high out-of-pocket costs for patients and to help providers improve their collections, even as one expert calls the services a “Band-Aid attempt to cover the widening healthcare affordability gap.”

An Urban Institute report published on May 11 found that 16.8% of adults from 18 to 64 years old had medical debt in April 2021, down from 23.6% in March 2019. The Urban Institute cited several potential reasons for the decline, including a reduction in health care utilization, pandemic relief measures and growth in Medicaid enrollment.

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Medicaid Plans Get Ready for Yearlong Postpartum Care

State Medicaid programs now have the option of applying to CMS to expand postpartum coverage for parents who have just given birth to 12 months, up from the default 60 days of coverage. Medicaid MCOs in states that have opted into the expanded coverage tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT, that they are taking steps to get ready for the new coverage and anticipate better outcomes for both new parents and new children as a result of the program.

Maternal mortality rates in the United States are disturbingly high compared to other developed countries — in 2018, 17 women per 100,000 live births died, compared to three in the Netherlands, Norway and New Zealand, per the Commonwealth Fund — and the U.S. is the only developed country to see that rate increase in recent years. Most of those deaths were preventable.

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Cigna Eases Investor Fears With Better Medical Cost, Membership

Cigna Corp. pleased Wall Street with its first-quarter 2022 financial results, touting a solid increase in commercial self-funded membership and a better-than-projected medical loss ratio (MLR) of 81.5%.

The insurer posted first-quarter 2022 net income of $1.18 billion ($3.68 per share) on revenue of $44.0 billion, up from net income of $1.16 billion ($3.30 per share) on revenue of $40.1 billion for the same period in 2021.

Cigna’s self-funded commercial membership rose 9% to 12.5 million through March 31, while insured commercial membership rose 2% to 2.2 million. In all, Cigna had 17.8 million medical members on March 31, 2022, up about 700,000 or 4% from Dec. 31, 2021, when it stood at 16.7 million.

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Study: 25% of Medicaid Docs Provide At Least 75% of Care

About a quarter of the practitioners in Medicaid managed care organization networks provide more than three-quarters of the services used by members, according to an article published by researchers affiliated with Yale and Cornell Universities in the journal Health Affairs this month. Experts say that this concentration of care likely limits access to care for members, and health plans need to do more to make sure their networks aren’t made up of so-called “ghost providers.”

The article, which analyzed claims and enrollment data from Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan and Tennessee during 2015-17, found that care delivery is highly concentrated in both primary care and specialists. However, the authors caution that their study of the states “might not generalize nationally” and only studied four specialties.

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News Briefs: Oscar Leaves Arkansas, Colorado

Oscar Health, Inc. will cease operations in Arkansas and Colorado at the end of this plan year. Chief Financial Officer Scott Blackley defended the decision by saying “they’re really small” markets for the firm in response to a question from Goldman Sachs analyst Nathan Rich during the startup insurer’s latest earnings call, according to the Motley Fool. He added that “they don’t have a significant or even close to material effect [on profits.] There is a benefit though from just reducing…compliance work.” The firm has yet to post a profit, prompting criticism from managed care insiders.

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Some Insurers May Not Be Ready for Price Transparency Mandates

Insurer price transparency rules are finally starting to come into effect after years of litigation and administrative delays, but it’s not clear whether insurers will be compliant when deadlines arrive. Health care insiders tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT, that larger carriers have an advantage in implementation and smaller insurers may have a more difficult time keeping up.

Federal enforcement of payer price transparency rules by HHS and the departments of Labor and Treasury will begin on July 1 of this year. That deadline, during which plans will need to “make public machine-readable files disclosing in-network rates and out-of-network allowed amounts and billed charges,” per a government document, is the first of many health plan transparency requirements that will come into effect over the next two years.

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